Today, Americans say they are angry. Journalists and political commentators use that very word to describe a prevalent mood in sectors of our country.
What is this anger anyway? Is it people’s major way to address life? I don’t think so. People can be angry for very good reasons – compelling reasons: injustice, disrespect of the holy, the poverty to which their families are reduced through no fault of their own. In the best of all possible worlds, people funnel this anger in brave and life-serving ways, working with discipline and resourcefulness, in company with others, to achieve fruitful change in our society.
But anger is not always noble. Anger can launch the negative in us, diverting our ability to act for the personal or common good. This year, we have witnessed in the public arena seething, explosive, unbridled anger, rage, irritation, distress and annoyance. When these emotions are in play, the result is violence, destruction of life and property, injuries that will produce lasting physical or emotional scars. Anger of this kind begets anger. Are we in such short supply of emotions with which to cope with the hard things of life that anger consistently tops them all?
There are roughly 375 places in the Bible where the word anger is used, but only three times in the Gospel. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the story of a vastly corrupt servant who receives compassion from his master when he begs forgiveness for his theft. That same servant does not do in kind. Instead, he throttles and imprisons another servant who owes him a much smaller amount. When told, the master, in anger, handed him over for punishment until he paid his full debt. The master dealt with injustice as he saw it.
The other two times we see anger are in the Gospel of Mark. Early in his public ministry, Jesus came upon a man with a withered hand as he entered a synagogue. Jesus’ enemies were there watching, ready to accuse him of healing on the Sabbath. Undaunted, “looking around at them with anger, and grieved at their hardness of heart (3.5),” Jesus restored the man’s hand. The anger in Jesus was directed toward those who preferred the letter of the law to compassion. Finally, in Mark 14, a woman comes to anoint Jesus’ head with costly perfumed oil. Some there were angry because this gesture, in their minds, was wasteful and did not help the poor. Their concern for the poor was really a mask for their desire not to see Jesus honored.
That’s it. No more references to anger. Something else was present in Jesus. His compassion was primary, even in times when it was mixed with justice. There were other human emotions Jesus tapped into, and used to promote the good. We are not Jesus. Therefore, anger eludes our complete mastery. But we are called to become Jesus. That means we keep trying to listen rather than raise a fist, to weigh rather than reject, to see things from God’s perspective rather than to be caught in the moment that seems impossible.
~ Sister Joan Sobala